tv Tavis Smiley WHUT April 18, 2012 8:00am-8:30am EDT
phil: good evening. from new york, i am phil donahue. tonight, part two of my conversation with tavis smiley and dr. cornel west and the new book they have teamed up on, "the rich & the rest of us: a poverty manifesto exec," and in the growing inequities in our society and their impact on the future of all americans, on the systemic challenges we face, and ideas for what each of us can do to help eradicate poverty. we are glad you have joined us. part two of my conversation with tavis and dr. west is coming up right now. [applause] >> every community has a martin luther king boulevard. it's the cornerstone we all know. it's not just a street or boulevard, but a place where walmart stands together with your community to make every day better.
>> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. phil: we are back now with the co-authors of this book, "the rich & the rest of us." i think one of the interesting things you talk about, the lies about poverty. >> the idea that poor people have a character flaw and make bad choices. you see, this is just a way of trivializing the suffering of poor people.
we know some investment bankers to have character flaws and have made bad choices. [applause] and so far, they got over $15 trillion of our money. that is called socialism for the rich. when poor people call out, they say we whine. no, we wail. that is what bob marley is called the whalers -- wailers, not the whiners. when goldman sachs calls out for help, they get what they want, and then they still whine. the poor people call up, and they say they have to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. the double standard is hypocrisy. it is mendacity, and we will not put up with it anymore. we are fighting back. tavis: another lie that i feel
is that the rich pay more. the debate between rich versus poor. there is some truth in that. obviously, the more money you make, the more you should pay in taxes, and then there are two things that mitigates against that. the rich find these loopholes and these offshore accounts. how is it that two years ago i pay more taxes than g.e.? i am a talk-show host on public television and public radio, and i pay more taxes than general electric because they knew all the shenanigans and where all of the holes were and how to maneuver and how to strata tries to not pay a cent in taxes in a full calendar year, g.e., and they are not the only corporation that does that, so the rich do not always pay more, and more broadly speaking, it costs money to be poor. a lot of money to be poor, because of where we are supposed
to live, the opportunities that are denied us, the markups on the things we have to have. the rich do not pay anything what we pay. the rich do not always pay more. >> somehow, there is a plate -- a fair playing field, and it is really just a matter of marriage. the reason why 400 people have wealth over $450 million is because they are so smart. now, we know that is a lie. we know that is a lie. no doubt about it. there are a lot of why is poor people. phil: you really wonder. one of the issues, the phases that i went through was paternalism, and i did not realize it. i was on a board, i was mr.
liberal. this was the late 1960's. it was not easy being a liberal bent. finally, you get to the point where you really get smart, and you realize how complicated this is, and the first phase is the funds phase. i did it. ♪ we shall overcome ♪ it felt good. in the second phase, everybody is a bigot but you. i remember going to lunch with people, and i thought that everybody was archie bunker. and you turn everyone off, you know and they do not, and then you realize that you are part of that. tavis: i sensed that, and that your comment last night about the rock of gibraltar, a wonderful metaphor. it is really not that difficult, and we talk about this. it really is not that difficult. what the american people want is fundamental fairness.
it just on does need to know and when i hear mitt romney and others talking about the politics of envy, as if poor people are envious of what they have. that is not how this works. what people want is a level playing field. they want an opportunity. as you know, and you have seen the book. the first chapter is really a backstory on poverty, adjusted poverty backstory, and the next chapter is called the party of opportunity. in america, we have a party of opportunity, but then these other chapters are poverty of affirmations. we do not affirm the people. a poverty of courage. the poverty of vision. a poverty of imagination, and everyone of these chapters with these titles, we tried to weave a narrative that lays out the fact that this is not really
that complicated. it will be challenging. it will be difficult to get done, but it is not that complicated. it is about fundamental fairness. it is about income inequality. there are others that have done a really good job of reducing poverty. no society has altogether eliminated poverty. over a certain time period, they have done an amazing job of reducing poverty. in the very first chapter, which charts the history of poverty in this country, and we talked about this periods, those ebbs and flows where we did a serious job of taking on poverty. the johnson era of peace that comes to mind, the war on poverty. the fdr era comes to mind positively, and then we contrast those with the other eras, say, for example, the reagan years, where we did not do such a good job. we did an ugly job. we attacked poor people. the point, n being too long
winded, our energy and our d.s.o. for fighting poverty in this country ms and flows and goes up and down, but the bottom line is we know how to do this. this is not a skill problem. this is a well problem. we have the skill. we know how to do this. we just do not have the well, but it really is not that complicated. >> but the idea of impetus is a challenge. feeling helpless and hopeless. there is nothing wrong with having a moment of that. you just do not want to get stuck. all of us have to have certain moments. i just. my grandmamma, you know what i mean? the kind of life that you lead. she lived a glorious life. she was quite a talented woman. she never set foot in a school, and her grandson is a university
professor at princeton. [cheers and applause] a lot of people say, that is an american success story. i say no, no, no. it is people who are willing to fight because they love and were promoting justice. america is only free and democratic to a degree to which every generation of americans must fight to preserve whatever freedom, whatever democracy we have. that is what this book is about. if you really reach a point of impotence, and it remains static and stationery, you either sell out, you sell yourself, with a smile, but you end up empty on the inside, or you just give up, go to the cracow's, and become addicted to whatever. that is quite to keep you in escape, or you just caved in. you just become complacent, and we have too many folks who are doing that, but a democratic awakening is taking place.
we have to fight back. poor people fight back. working people fight back. the middle class. we should keep in mind in this book that we do not hate oligarchis or plutocrats. we hate plutocracy and oligarchy and injustice. that is what directs our hate and our righteous indignation. phil: the book also does not just complain. you do offer some wonderfully practical ideas about moving us off of this -- i do not know how you would say it, but i think we were doing really well for a while. nobody came up to any black person and said, boy, i am glad that is over, are you? nobody would say that, but a leader, i tell you, for a moment, if i can take a second,
muhammad ali did my show. we had gloves. i am swinging. i tip my life in my hand, and he fell down. i knocked muhammad ali on the ground. [laughter] and, i mean, this man could sell tickets. i have never seen anything like it. i was afraid. then i would run. a woman in the front war, a white woman in the front war said, "why are you always throwing your blackness at us? " chicagoans. and he said, "i am not to run my blackness at you. why are you throwing your white mist at made." take that white jesus off of a wall. i know a lot of within you are
prettier. and why is it that angel food cake is bigger, and doubles food cake is flat? imagine what he did for all of those, i want to say black males, but all of them. "i am somebody." where is muhammad ali today. he has paid his dues. he is happily retired. where is he? he did not fight. he refused to fight, and they stripped him of his belt. the athlete of the 20th century, and i also think he should have won the nobel peace prize. i nin't got nothing against.
tavis: now coming year, on nine two, we are getting to the good stuff, so you are talking about a lack of leadership. if there is anything we talk about in our book, it is the lack of leadership in this country on the issue we are talking about tonight, which is poverty, and what we argue in the book is that there is a bipartisan consensus in washington that the poor just do not matter. there is a bipartisan consensus that poverty is not an important issue, and there are a number of things that we call for in this book, and the last chapter lays out 12 ideas. bees are 12 specific things that we think need to be done on this issue. one of the 12, just one, one of
the things that women across the country, that women celebrate, and i am not a woman, but i celebrex but -- i celebrate this as well, when obama got elected, a powerful, powerful statement about what his administration was going to do on the issues, at least we thought at the time. a powerful statements he made about making that his first item he would sign, the executive order. the first thing that should happen when he wins again, because think he is a better choice than any on the right, but if he is serious about poor people, the first thing he ought to do is sign an executive order calling for a white house conference on the eradication of poverty. bring together all the poverty experts in this country for a two-dday conference
and let us lay out a national plan, a plan for how we're going to reduce, how we're going to move towards eradicating poverty in this country. again, it is not a skill problem. it is a will problem. geoffrey sax at columbia. -- jeffrey sachs. how we can eradicate poverty in this country. we do not have a leadership class that takes this issue or these people seriously enough to pull together a plan to make this happen. we all know this. when this country get serious about anything, when it makes anything a priority, it gets done. if we want to go to war, we will find the money. we will print money to go to war if that is what our priority is. one layperson put it this way. all of the american people want the same thing. republicans, a democrat, left,
right, black, white, jews, gentile, educated, e literate. there is a leadership vacuum -- vacuum in the middle where no one is stepping up to fight and defend the poor. i hope if he gets a second term that the president as part of his legacy will take this issue much more seriously, since most of us are falling into this and this anyway. one thing i am certain on that all americans are in agreement on, we are not asking to be poor. if we can have some leadership
on this. >> unless you are a month or a nun. -- monk or a nun. you have got 13,000 this. the defense fund. she has got her voice over against what is tied to big money and wall street and the corporate elite, we have got a version of this because the democratic party is tied to big money. both are tied to the same group.
what we need is both insiders who are sensitive, but we need a movement. we need pressure from the outside that brings this pressure to bear on the insiders so that they can counterbalance all of the wall street corporate elite money that is playing such a deleterious role in our politics. phil: i am lucky because i got things from some of the black politicians and leaders in the 20th-century, and i remember so many things that they said that just stick with me. andrew young. before he was be atlanta mayor, i remember. he said we have to have, we have to elect people who will reach out rather than lash out.
and that is real simple, but it never left my brain. and there were very few, there were white folks out there certainly agreeing, but we did not see them. somehow, that never got on the media. and it is this lashing out by a largely white establishment, militaristic, a crowd in washington that has really made it so complicated to stick to the domestic agonies that we have. tavis: the conversation is going to get louder. that is a conversation we do not
even need to be having. you do not create programs. you do not create good public policy to lift people up. once again, they get demonized. they get criminalize, and you blame them for their own station in light, -- in life. i am concerned about where this election cycle is going to take us, and that is one of the reasons why we, obviously unapologetically and strategically wrote this book to get it out, because in this election season, while we can get some traction of this movement, those of us who care about the issues can get some traction on these issues, we need to be talking about it. phil: these co-authors -- tavis: if it were done solo --
phil: it is fascinating. it is done on the straight up. you did not run around talking to celebrities, and you spent so much time talking to real people. share with us, therefore, in the last chapter, what proof >> we call for a surplus of compassion, imagination, affirmation of poor people. dr. king talked about the american dream. he did not say his dream was identical to the american dream. he said it was deeply rooted in. it was a dialectical critique of the american dream. king was preoccupied with greatness, and greatness is defined by the king legacy as he or she that has the courage to love and serve others, and that
is the corrective, the black people's corrective to america. what kind of to be you want to be? do you want to be cold hearted or kind, just, and considered? .net is up to you to decide. bis is like our individual lives. what kind of person do you want to be? phil: firing from an armed vehicle and killing another person. we can put people in a cage for four, 56 years, no red cross.
>> no judicial process. phil: the land of the free, and the people bragging the most about american exceptionalism, and, by the way -- tavis: we take that on. phil: if we are so exceptional, let somebody from another country say that. easy, a bad guy. >> it is one thing to say that god has his eyes on us and shot on another nation. phil: it also puts us up here and then down here, and you know how we treat people when they are down there. it is inevitable. ed tavis has been a voice for many years. >> he came up with the whole idea.
phil: and i mentioned keep on keeping on, and i have met so many people. i was a very lucky guy. so many things happened, and i had them on our show. tavis: you were lucky, but you blessed and whole lot of us. you blessed a whole lot of oz. i would not be on television if it were not for you. phil: we have not changed a bit. >> my love and respect for you is deeper and deeper and deeper. phil: to never allow yourself to become cynical. never cynical. where you speak in such dire terms that you turn people off, and you say you are right, you cannot do anything. you kept your chin up and your
spirit, and even smiled, both of you, very well. tavis: i think skepticism is healthy. cynicism is deadly. but skepticism is healthy. i think if people get a chance to read it, they will come to terms with what we have come to terms with, and that is we are a better nation. phil: the book of which you speak is called "the rich & the rest of us: a poverty manifesto." my thanks for letting me be part of this conversation. this has been a kick for me over the past couple of nights. gentlemen, thank you, and good night from new york. [cheers and applause] >> for more information on at pbs.org. hi, i'm tavis smiley. join me next time for a conversation with -- a political writer and his
explosive new book about the obama economic team. that is next time. we will see you then. >> every community has a martin luther king boulevard. it's the cornerstone we all know. it's not just a street or boulevard, but a place where walmart stands together with your community to make every day better. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. >> be more. pb